Pitch a rock in any direction right now and it will drop on someone who feels overwhelmed. I hardly need to rehearse details of the last 3 years. Covid, politics, race, recession–each new wave floods our life with uncertainty, capsizing our routines in a sea of listless exhaustion. Meaning and motivation are under constant attack. It’s a war of attrition.
If you can identify with that description, there is a group of Christians who get you. The author of Hebrews wrote to help them stand in the face of sustained, unrelenting assaults upon their faith. By listening to how the writer inspires their action, we are helped to endure our affliction.
Feeling Far Behind
In Hebrews 10, the writer talks about how this group once suffered, probably around 49 A.D., under the reign of Claudius:
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” Hebrews 10:32–34
As congregations go, these saints are not your breezy, superficial, collapse-under-pressure Christians. The writer references a former period where they displayed remarkable courage, Christ-exalting sacrifice, and a gospel-inscribed witness for Jesus. Reading it leaves me speechless. But their hard times were just getting started. The clouds of persecution were gathering again under the storm of Nero’s insanity. The cluster of trials made them weary. The unrelenting drip of adversity left them struggling with unbelief. Past suffering has weakened their faith for future endurance.
The writer of Hebrews gets pretty specific over the lingering effects. He talks about their unbelieving hearts (3:12), how they are dull of hearing (5:11), how they are sluggish (6:12), they feel weary and fainthearted (12:3), and they have drooping hands and weak knees (12:12).
Drooping hands and weak knees! That’s quite an image, particularly for folks who need to be running strong. Think about it: You’ll never hear an Olympic commentator say, “Now in this particular race, America has the distinct advantage of drooping hands and weak knees!”
Can you identify with that? Do you feel like you have paid a toll for past suffering that has left you emotionally spent? Where do we turn for renewal when life is hard and you feel like these Hebrew Christians—struggling with sufferings, publicly reproached, and plundered by other people?
Under the Spirit’s inspiration, the Hebrews writer offers a remarkable answer. Think of it as a resilience booster.
Jesus Went Ahead
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14–16
The first part of v. 14 seems pretty random. I mean, if you are lamenting to me at lunch that you feel tired and ready to give up, is there comfort in me saying, “Yes, but hold on! Jesus passed through the heavens!”? It begs the question of whether my brain has been raptured and is now passing through the heavens.
So why? Why the travel itinerary for Jesus? And why is it important to those struggling with God’s absence or their lack of desire for God?
The writer of Hebrews has already dedicated an enormous amount of space to the idea that Jesus is the Great High Priest of a different order. He’s not of the order of Aaron but of Melchizedek (7:17). His power is not based on the law but grounded by an indestructible life (7:16). His atonement is not an annual sacrifice but a once-for-all sacrifice (7:27). In other words, there’s a fascinating, intentional contrast being drawn between Jesus and the high priest of Israel.
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would pass through the veil to enter the Holy of Holies to make a sacrifice for sins (9:7). The Holy of Holies symbolized the presence of God. But Jesus, the great high priest, passed not through the veil of the earthly temple but through the veil of the heavenly one. He ascended on an unhindered flight path to the presence of God. Sin did not obstruct him. Satan did not block him. Death did not stop him. His sacrifice overcame all obstacles so that he could pass through the heavens and return to the presence of God.
If you are struggling for faith to move forward, let me spell out what this means: Jesus passing through the heavens means his mission was complete. Christ’s victory was secured. Jesus made it home. This is like reading, “And Dorothy melted the wicked witch of the West, clicked her ruby red heels three times and returned to Kansas.” Except there’s one important difference. This is no fairy tale. Jesus succeeded. And because he made it, you will too.
Jesus and Right Now
Here’s where this lands in real life: We will never be forgotten because Christ was forsaken. Because he suffered separation from God, we will always remain united to Him. Because he arrived in the presence of God, we will too.
Jesus knows how to get you into the presence of God.
And when we understand this gospel backdrop, the command to “hold fast your confession” makes sense. We can hold fast to our confession because Jesus has made it. We can hold fast because we are held by Him.
At Spurgeon’s pastor’s college, a crest symbolized the heart of all they did. The crest portrayed a hand grasping the cross, and beneath it was the Latin phrase: Et Teneo, Et Teneor. “I hold, I am held.” Spurgeon explained, “Our desire is that every man may both hold the truth and be held by it.”
Hold the truth and be held by it. In these days where it feels so costly to hold on, let the truth of Hebrews hold you. If you feel like you are sliding away, grab hold of the cross. Don’t worry, it will hold. Remember, Jesus passed through the heavens. If you need resilience, rope yourself to that truth. It will anchor you for what’s up ahead.
- Do you feel like the world is falling apart around you? Does it seem like new trials wash over you every day? Are you suffering for your faith in ways you would never have expected? How does Jesus’s complete work as the great high priest comfort you?
- How have you understood the call to “hold fast our confession” (Heb 4:14) in the past? Has it seemed like an almost impossible task? Jesus, our great high priest, has passed through the heavens and is in the presence of God. His victory is ours. He holds you. Keep holding on to him.
- Where do you go to boost your resilience? Do you work out more? Binge-watch a favorite TV show? Read a book? Grab coffee with friends? These are not bad things, but if they are the source of your resilience for each day, you will soon find yourself adrift in a stormy sea of difficulty. Anchor your soul to Christ. Go to the throne of grace each day. Only there will you find mercy and grace in your time of need.